Millions fund just four houses
Jennifer Sexton and Ashleigh Wilson
13th June 2005

MORE than $3 million in housing grants controlled by the Northern Territory's most powerful black politician, Galarrwuy Yunupingu, has funded construction of just four houses in four years for his impoverished Arnhem Land people.

One of those houses was for Mr Yunupingu's use.

Other funds sourced from mining royalties and grants last financial year were spent on a disused football oval, $42,157, and school lunches, $17,499, although few children make the 12km journey to school.

A family violence concert – which locals do not recall – cost $10,000 and, although few people own vehicles, the Gumatj Association, which administers their community, incurred fuel and oil costs of $117,648. Two people are employed at the Gumatj Association yet wages were $417,128 and insurance cost $121,514.

As revealed exclusively in The Weekend Australian on Saturday, the funding is part of $50 million in mining royalties and grants that Mr Yunupingu's son and sister say has benefited just a small group of people in the community for the past decade.

The Howard Government is investigating the allegations and the Northern Territory Government has recommended the complaints be referred to police.

Most of the 300 people living at Ski Beach, Gunyangara and Gulapa on the Gove Peninsula live in squalid and overcrowded houses made of tin. In contrast, Mr Yunupingu, 56, has the use of a helicopter, four houses and a fleet of six cars, including a Range Rover.

Mr Yunupingu has denied any wrongdoing, saying he owned no houses and had not misused any funds.

Federal and state allocations of $2.6million over the past four years for new house constructions have resulted in four houses being built at Ski Beach, with one of them for the use of Mr Yunupingu – former chairman of the Northern Land Council – and his wife.

Housing maintenance grants worth $387,000 were received in the same period yet some houses are without electricity, and others do not have a working toilet.

Mr Yunupingu controls the two bodies that receive the housing funding, royalties, rents and grants: he is chairman of the Gumatj Association and president of the Marngarr Community Government Council.

His fourth son, Sammy Yunupingu, sister Gayili Marika (nee Yunupingu) and cousin Dhangal Gurruwiwi said the funds were needed for art, business and education projects to improve the prospects of a community devoid of hope.

Gumatj Association accounts show that helicopter repairs and maintenance have cost $384,399 in the past four years, including $169,949 in the last financial year.

The independent auditor JC Smith & Associates, of Darwin, has noted that for the past four years it was unclear who were the beneficiaries of "clan distributions", worth $1.822million last year.

Yunupingu Industries, of which Mr Yunupingu is a director, owes Gumatj Association $13,925 but, according to the annual reports, not a single repayment on the loan has been made in four years.

Northern Territory Chief Minister Clare Martin said at the weekend that she had sought advice on the allegations from the Department of Community Development.

Opposition justice spokeswoman Jodeen Carney called for an inquiry.

"We join with the Government when the Chief Minister says allegations should be referred to the police. There should be an inquiry based on the allegations," Ms Carney said.

"We are aware that these allegations have been around for some time. We're concerned that the Government hasn't seen fit to act on them until it was made public and we know that the allegations in relation to this matter have applied to other councils.

"The Government has not done well in ensuring that the right people receive the money for which it was intended."